Family and friends gathered Saturday to pay tribute to former IBP chief executive Bob Peterson, remembered by those who knew him best as a tireless and courageous leader who cared deeply about his family, business and community.
"Bob Peterson was a man of great integrity," the Rev. Terry Templeton, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Sioux City, told the estimated 700 people who attended a memorial service at Morningside College's Eppley Auditorium. "He was an honest man, straight forward, certainly a man of purpose."
Peterson, who died Tuesday at 71 after a seven-month battle with brain cancer, was with IBP when it started in 1961 and served as chairman and CEO for more than 20 years. He retired in September 2001 after Tyson Foods acquired the Dakota Dunes-based firm, creating the world's largest meat company.
Dick Bond, Tyson's chief operating officer and a longtime friend and colleague, said Peterson truly had a "gift" for leadership.
"He knew how to ask the right questions, cut through the details and get to the heart of the subject," Bond told the audience. "Bob was very decisive. He made a decision, he stayed with it and followed through."
Peterson was always willing to go the extra mile to succeed, Bond said. Prior to opening a pork plant in Madison, Neb. in the early 1970s with two other former IBP executives, Peterson took an hourly production job at another pork plant to learn more about the industry.
Bond joked the hardworking Peterson likely would have been pleased his memorial service was held on a Saturday morning, but he probably would have liked Saturday afternoon even better, so that employees would have missed even less work time.
From his office in IBP's Dakota Dunes headquarters, Peterson had a view of a large pond in the outside grounds. At lunch time, he'd often watch employees stroll along a sidewalk circling the pond.
"It used to drive him crazy," Bond fondly recalled. "He'd ask, 'How do they have time to eat and walk around that pond?"'
Though he demanded much from his employees, Peterson treated them with respect and compassion, friends and associates said.
"He had an intense desire for his company to be its best, and he expected those of us who worked for him to do and be our best too," Bond said.
At the memorial service, Bond and two other friends fondly described sides of the hard-nosed businessman that most never saw. Sioux City attorney Marvin Berenstein said he and Peterson were close for 40 years, even though their hobbies were much different. Berenstein enjoyed tennis and golf, while Peterson favored hunting and fishing.
One day, Peterson drove up to Berenstein's home on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Noticing Berenstein holding a tennis racket, Peterson jokingly called him a "wuss." Moments later, Peterson accidentally fell of his big bike, and "I got even," Berenstein quipped.
Berenstein said Peterson and his wife, Ginny, were generous with their good fortune, establishing a local charitable foundation and contributing to a wide range of local initiatives. But Peterson often went out of his way to avoid recognition for his good work, Berenstein said. At Christmastime, for example, he would stop by the Boys Club and buy winter coats, hats and gloves for the youth, asking simply that they not tell anyone where the money came from.
Like many other IBP employees, Peterson also helped out with the cleanup efforts in the aftermath of the 1990 Perry Creek flood. "Bob was dirty and tired, but he kept right on going," Bond recalled.
Berenstein said Peterson was never worried about how the public might remember him, but following a private dinner about two weeks ago, he got to talking about Currier Holman, the IBP co-founder who convinced Peterson to become a cattle buyer for the new packing plant that opened in Denison, Iowa in 1961. Knowing he was in the advanced stages of cancer, Peterson urged Berenstein -- both had been pall bearers at Holman's memorial service in 1977 -- to keep Holman's legacy alive.
"I say to you, don't let the legacy of Currier Holman and Bob Peterson die," Berenstein told the audience.
Templeton, Berenstein and another longtime family friend, Gary Gunderson, fondly described Peterson's devotion to his family. In addition to Ginny, his wife of 51 years, he is survived by a son Mark and his wife, Polly, of Dakota Dunes, a daughter, Susan of Cape Canaveral, Fla.; his mother, Laura Etta Peterson of Sioux City; his brother, Peter "Inky" Peterson, of Jacksonville, Fla.; and four grandchildren.
At the service, Gunderson read a letter from Ginny Peterson to family and friends, which touched on her husband's life, his recent battle with cancer and his Christian beliefs.
"I know the dear man who was ours has made a difference in so many lives," Gunderson read.
Following the memorial service, a lunch was served at Tyson Fresh Meats' headquarters in Dakota Dunes. A private burial service followed at Lakeview Gardens in Okoboji, Iowa. The family owns a home in the Iowa Great Lakes region.
Dave Dreeszen can be reached at (712) 293-4211 or email@example.com